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February 2, 2015

Sunwatchers: Tomb Howl Review

Sunwatcher

The Brooklyn-via-Athens group Sunwatchers, featuring former Dark Meat members Jeff Tobias (a Flagpole contributor), Jim McHugh and Jason Robira, has released a staggering debut. The music here contains the wild, furious warmth of free jazz and the steady kinetic pulse of kosmische Musik. This is an instrumental band with a fierce, distinct voice.

Side A was recorded live in 2013 at Trans-Pecos, a venue in Ridgewood, Queens. But it doesn’t sound stoned and starving; it sounds lucid and ravenous. Tobias’ saxophone leads the four-piece ensemble, with Dave Harrington’s standup bass providing an elastic counterbalance. McHugh acts as the harmonic and atmospheric center, as integral and pervasive as incense in a temple. He plays an instrument called the electric phin, a Thai lute that sounds like John Cale’s electrified viola tuned up an octave and broadcast atop a desert mesa at sunrise.

Side B is more mellow and brings in a larger cast of players. The kinetic pulse is swapped for hypnotic drones and fluid rhythm. Don’t be fooled by track names like “Sunbleached Bones” and “Tomb Howl”: This is music that embraces you. 

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